Arvind Kejriwal is not angry.
In a long conversation with Manu Joseph, the editor of Open Magazine before a live audience, Mr Aami Aadmi spoke out about his political philosophy, electoral prospects and of course, Narendra Modi. Excerpts have been carried by Open Magazine with links to the longer interview online. You can read it here.
Kejriwal makes it clear that’s he’s not the angry middle-aged man of Indian politics. Actually here are six myths about Arvind Kejriwal that the man himself busted in course of the interview.
Arvind Kejriwal is an angry man. "I am not angry. Maybe some of those photographs portray me to be an angry person," he said with a bit of a smile. In typical Arvind Kejriwal style, he preferred to call himself a "dissatisfied" person. It might be more accurate. It certainly makes for less colourful copy than "angry". But that's Arvind Kejriwal. It was an almost endearingly human moment for a man who has made a career out of being fairly colourless in a sea of colourful politicians.
Arvind Kejriwal is a socialist. Kejriwal says as soon as he went after corporate tycoons, he was labeled a socialist. "When we have a press conference they say corporate nahin hain toh koi ? Corporate hain toh nahin chalayenge. Politician hain toh chalayange." But he tells Joseph he is not wedded to any ideology. "Ideology se pet nahin bharta. We are aam aadmis. If we find our solution in the left we are happy to borrow it from there. If we find our solution in the right, we are happy to borrow it from there." That sounds a little Mamata-esque minus the folksy metaphors.
Arvind Kejriwal wants to be the next Obama. Actually Kejriwal does not deny he's read a lot about the Obama campaign and their grassroots work."But he was so much internet based. Our internet penetration is quite poor," he says. He understands he doesn't have the media that is as enamoured of him as it was of the charismatic Obama. He knows his novelty value is wearing thin after several exposes and fasts. And plans for "sthaniya prabharis" as units of governance don't quite set social media on fire. But he is sure that no matter what has succeeded wherever, it has to work for India.
Arvind Kejriwal is too much of a straight shooter to be a politician. The interview shows clearly that Arvind Kejriwal is quickly learning the art of answering a question without answering the question. For example, he has learned to try to sidestep the NaMo trap where all politics in India seem to eventually boil down to are you pro-Modi or against Modi. "Let the people form their own impression," he said trying to wriggle out of the question. Pressed further, he said "Forming views about people is not the right thing… I think it’s small to talk about people." But pushed even more, he eventually tried to sound even handed. "Godhra was bad. (The riots in) Gujarat was also bad." Asked to name three politicians he admired he eventually came up with Jaipal Reddy and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Seeing him stumped for a third name, an audience member offered up Modi. "That could be your choice," said Kejriwal with a slight smile, but he couldn’t come up with anything good to say about Modi’s record. Incidentally he couldn't name a Bollywood film he had liked recently either.
Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare never got over the Great Rift. He could have easily brushed it aside or made some elliptic references to Bhishma in a blog. But Kejriwal took the question seriously and admitted that there had been a strong difference of opinion.
Annaji was against entering politics and he said, ‘If we get in, we will become dirty. There is filth inside.’ I told him ‘We have no choice but to wade into the filth’. He said ‘We will become sullied’. I told him, if we get dirty that will be our sacrifice— that we pledged our reputation to get in’.
Arvind Kejriwal is always right. It is heartening to see a politician who has no hesitation discussing a mistake when asked about the biggest mistake the Anna movement made. The answer was a bit martyr-like — "I think that was the major mistake — we believed in the government (on Janlokpal)". Kejriwal says they did not try to turn the movement into an organization when it was at the height of its popularity because they believed the government’s promises 200%. But at least, the man admits to a mistake unlike say George W Bush.
But then Arvind Kejriwal is really an unusual politician. He might be standing up for the plight of Dilliwalas with inflated phone bills but he does not “feel your pain” like a Bill Clinton did. His full mustache does not quiver with righteous indignation when he’s talking about the hugely inflated utility bills some poor woman in her one room jhuggi home must endure. He has no folksy metaphors but claims to speak for the aam aadmi. When asked about his platform, he says “the content – people already know. We are not telling then anything new.” Now that would be suicidal for most other politicians because it would make political hacks shut their reporters’ notebooks and move on to the next story.
Yet the man has made his matter-of-fact blandness his strong suit, his USP. He remains one of the few politicians in the country who can say "We don’t have much money. Only strength we have is the people" and still sound sincere. However a quick aside to his handlers: A little more passion might not be a bad idea, especially when he’s talking about those 7,000 volunteers who have put their careers on hold to bring about social change. After all he has to succeed in a city where 40% of the electorate did not even vote. Kejriwal thinks many of those people were fed up with politics as usual and are registering in droves because they believe in a party like the Aam Aadmi party. The Delhi elections will show if he’s right or not and if that faith extends beyond Kejriwal himself to the rest of his party.
Otherwise, come November, Arvind Kejriwal will have one more reason to be dissatisfied. Make that very dissatisfied.